A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.
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Until the later 18th century the township supported a small agricultural population. By the later 17th century there was also some employment, not necessarily full-time, in the textile trades and coalpits. A Ketley clothier (d. 1676) seems to have been principally a farmer. A glover was mentioned in 1703 and there were weavers at Ketley and Ketleybrook. (fn. 1) Nevertheless some men already depended entirely on coalmining: about 1688 some inhabitants of Coalpit Bank complained that poverty forced them to send wives and children into the pits. (fn. 2) There were potters in Wellington parish in 1763, (fn. 3) perhaps in Ketley township where clay was abundant just under the surface near Pottersbank. (fn. 4) There were no potters by 1813 (fn. 5) but industrial exploitation of the township's clay for bricks, tiles, and fireclay goods was well established. (fn. 6) Other large-scale industries were developing and by 1821 four fifths of the c. 560 employed people were colliers or industrial workers; (fn. 7) moreover the township had become dependent on one company. In 1841 full employment and good wages were enjoyed. (fn. 8) A small jam factory opened at Lawley Bank farm c. 1893. Later called the Wrekin Preserves Co., the business seems to have closed c. 1920. (fn. 9) In the 1920s slag from the former ironworks was got as road material. (fn. 10) In the mid 20th century, when the last collieries closed, there was still only one large employer, Glynwed Foundries Ltd. Telford development corporation planned that the township should otherwise be mainly residential by the end of the century. (fn. 11)
In the earlier Middle Ages two thirds of the township, the higher ground that formed its eastern and southern parts, were predominantly wooded (fn. 12) and presumably accounted for a large proportion of the two leagues of woodland attached to Leegomery manor in 1086. (fn. 13) Clearance of the north-western third probably occurred during the Anglo-Saxon period, as the name Ketley suggests. (fn. 14) Further clearances, partly for arable, took place in the 12th (fn. 15) and 13th (fn. 16) centuries, probably in places as widely separated as Beveley, Mannerley Lane, Mosseygreen, and Redlees, but the township was not disafforested until 1301. (fn. 17) By the 16th century clearance was also creating inclosed pastures, (fn. 18) and the ancient woodland had probably been reduced to substan tial fragments such as Gorsy wood. (fn. 19) The township's permanent pasture and meadow then exceeded its arable in area. (fn. 20)
In the 16th century there were three open fields (fn. 21) near Ketley town. (fn. 22) One may have been called Wellington field, (fn. 23) another Quite field. (fn. 24) Beyond the fields Allmoore and Humble moor (fn. 25) were probably common wastes; they lay respectively to the north-west and south-east. (fn. 26) It is likely that gradual consolidation and inclosure of strips had virtually extinguished the open fields by c. 1700. (fn. 27) By then the lord's policy was also to inclose commons. (fn. 28)
In 1598 there were six small farms: three copyholds for lives and three leaseholds for three lives. There were also smallholdings by 1598, each consisting of a dwelling and inclosed pastures in former woodland; they were usually leaseholds. (fn. 29) The last copyhold farms probably became leaseholds in the earlier 17th century. By the 1640s, (fn. 30) and until the later 18th century, (fn. 31) new farm leases were normally for 99 years terminable on three or fewer lives. On 20 October 1671 William Leveson-Gower granted at least five such leases, (fn. 32) for high entry fines and low reserved rents. In the earlier 18th century the LevesonGowers favoured annual tenancies. In 1755, however, an urgent need of capital induced Lord Gower to grant new leases to all tenants who wanted them. Annual tenancies were restored as the leases fell in, (fn. 33) mostly in the 1790s but not finally until after 1818. (fn. 34)
In the 17th and earlier 18th century the main farms practised a mixed husbandry. All had cereals and cattle in herds averaging six. Most had sheep, in flocks of c. 30. In 1705 one farmer also had 15 horses, probably as a dealer or carrier, but most had far fewer. (fn. 35) The smallholders, some of whom were tradesmen or labourers, usually had a few cattle, but rarely sheep or cereals. (fn. 36)
By the 1790s most of the former open-field area was occupied by industrial development. The township's farms over 25 a. were compact, and managed from houses within their boundaries: a pattern characteristic of assarted lands. In 1813 the two largest holdings were those of Reynolds & Co. (296 a.) and Thomas Freeman (140 a.), both more than half agricultural. There were six others over 25 a., the largest having 63 a. (fn. 37)
The disappearance of leaseholds by c. 1820 and the surrender of the Reynolds holding c. 1818 (fn. 38) enabled James Loch, the marquess of Stafford's agent, to adjust the pattern. (fn. 39) The former Reynolds and Freeman holdings were broken up, and two of the others over 25 a. were dissolved. With land thus released Loch created pastoral smallholdings for deserving tenants (fn. 40) and adjusted the remaining farms. By 1842 there were six farms, (fn. 41) the largest having 58 a., and over thirty holdings between 1 a. and 25 a. compared with seven in 1813. Three fifths of the township were still agricultural, with equal acreages of arable and permanent grass and only 8 a. of woodland. On each farm over 25 a., however, arable exceeded permanent grass by at least 3 to 2.
In the later 19th century the farms increased in size and moved towards livestock. (fn. 42) In 1894 the five farms over 25 a. averaged 67 a. and together covered more land than the six of 1842. Their permanent grass exceeded their arable by 2 to 1. (fn. 43) Ketley's agriculture remained predominantly. pastoral in the earlier 20th century (fn. 44) and was only moderately affected by urban encroachments. (fn. 45) In the 1970s Telford development corporation planned to cover the land with housing before 1986, (fn. 46) but little had been done by 1983. (fn. 47)
Coal and ironstone.
From 1715 Lord Gower leased all the coal, ironstone, and limestone to Richard Hartshorne of Ketley, master collier, for 21 years. The pits were mostly in Ketley wood and at Coalpit Bank. (fn. 54) From 1732 the lease was renewed, with permission to make coke at the pit heads and erect a steam engine. (fn. 55) Hartshorne died in 1733 and his widow Jane held the lease at her death in 1737. Her Ketley pits were then under five charter masters, with 376 stacks of coal lying on the banks. (fn. 56)
Until the later 19th century the landlord granted successive 21-year mineral leases. In 1754 Abraham Darby (II) had recently become lessee. (fn. 57) He seems to have found the mines in need of improvement. (fn. 58) Soon afterwards the Horsehay and Ketley ironworks began production, and thereafter Ketley coal and ironstone was mostly consumed there. By 1777 Darby's son-in-law Richard Reynolds was lessee. In that year Reynolds's Ketley mines (partly in Wombridge parish) produced 20,733 tons of Clod coal for coking and 2,741 tons of other coals. (fn. 59) Reynolds seems to have passed his interest, probably in 1789 with that in the ironworks, to his sons, (fn. 60) William (d. 1803) (fn. 61) and Joseph. To them alone the lease was renewed in 1797. (fn. 62) It seems likely, however, that in 1818, having given up the Ketley ironworks, (fn. 63) Joseph did not seek renewal of his mineral lease. In that year it was granted to the Ketley Co., (fn. 64) new lessees of the ironworks, to whom it was renewed from 1839 and 1860. (fn. 65) The 1860 mineral rent was £1,000 plus royalties. (fn. 66) The Ketley Co. remained profitable until 1874 (fn. 67) but by August 1876 liabilities exceeded assets by at least £12,000. (fn. 68) The iron and brick works were sold, the company surrendered its coal and ironstone lease c. 1879, and in 1881 dissolved itself. (fn. 69)
In 1879 the coal and ironstone were leased to Nettlefolds Ltd., (fn. 70) purchasers of the brickworks. (fn. 71) In 1882 mining was concentrated immediately east and south-east of Ketley town. Nearly thirty abandoned shafts were recorded. (fn. 72) Nettlefolds left Shropshire in 1886 but their manager at Ketley (formerly manager of the Ketley Co.) continued mining until 1895 at the Rock. (fn. 73) The duke of Sutherland, at his sale of Ketley in 1894, included the mineral rights with the several lots, (fn. 74) and thereafter small independent mines operated in the coal-bearing parts. The last were the Rock collieries, which closed in 1964. (fn. 75)
Short-term opencast mining by the National Coal Board began in 1967 at Prince's End (fn. 76) and in 1975 at Clare's Lane (partly in Dawley), where the scheme was expected to yield 400,000 tons for Ironbridge 'B' power station and to reclaim the land for building by Telford development corporation. (fn. 77)
Iron and engineering.
From 1756 Lord Gower leased land next to Watling Street to Abraham Darby (II) and Thomas Goldney for an ironworks. (fn. 78) The first furnace came into blast in 1757 and a second in 1758. Coal and ironstone lay nearby, and limestone came from Benthall. (fn. 79) In 1757 Richard Reynolds joined the partnership and seems to have become manager. He bought the Goldney shares in 1775. (fn. 80) By 1776 there were three furnaces and in 1785 a forge began work. Reynolds resigned his shares to his sons William and Joseph in 1789, and in 1796 they became sole partners. (fn. 81)
William, especially gifted, was already manager (fn. 82) and keenly interested in the application of scientific discoveries. (fn. 83) Under the Reynolds brothers Ketley's was the fifth largest ironworks in Britain. In 1804 there were six blast furnaces, and output of pig in 1806 was c. 7,500 tons. (fn. 84) Coal and ironstone then came not only from Ketley but also from Little Wenlock (fn. 85) and Wrockwardine Wood (fn. 86) and limestone came from Buildwas, Lincoln Hill, (fn. 87) and Steeraway. (fn. 88) The foundry made large castings for civil and mechanical engineers and the forge made plates and rods. (fn. 89)
From William's death in 1803 the works prospered until 1816, when Joseph closed it because of falling demand. (fn. 90) Miners and ironworkers lost their jobs and for a time Ketley threatened to become an 'appendage to the Wellington workhouse'. (fn. 91) Early in 1818, however, the marquess of Stafford leased the site to Richard Mountford, Henry Williams, William Shakeshaft, John Ogle, and William Hombersley. As the Ketley Co. they revived three blast furnaces and the forge. Annual production of pig was c. 5,000 tons in 1823 and c. 5,750 in 1830. (fn. 92) Some coal was bought from the Lawley Co. (fn. 93) By 1837 fluxing limestone was imported from north Wales. (fn. 94) In the 1850s pig and bar iron remained the chief products. (fn. 95) The Ketley Co. collapsed c. 1874, closed the works, and sold the plant in 1879 to Nettlefolds Ltd. (fn. 96) Nettlefolds did not, however, revive ironworking, and unemployment was severe. (fn. 97)
Engineering resumed at the site in 1903 (fn. 98) when Duncan Sinclair, former manager of the Coalbrookdale works, established the Sinclair Iron Co. Ltd. to make light castings for the building trade. With c. 60 employees at first, (fn. 99) the firm had over 200 by 1912. (fn. 100) It became part of Light Castings Ltd. in 1922 and of Allied Ironfounders Ltd. in 1929. (fn. 101) By 1958 James Clay (Wellington) Ltd., another subsidiary of Allied Ironfounders, had moved from Hadley township to another part of the site. (fn. 102) In 1962 the combined plant, then one of Europe's biggest producers of rainwater goods, (fn. 103) became the Sinclair Works of Allied Ironfounders Ltd. (fn. 104) There were 1,212 employees in 1964. (fn. 105) Allied Ironfounders' Shropshire concerns became part of Glynwed Foundries Ltd. in 1969. From 1970 to 1978 the works made automobile castings on a large scale, but thereafter concentrated on cast-iron rainwater, soil, and drain pipes and gutters. There were c. 750 employees in September 1982. (fn. 106)
In 1809 Edward Cranage of Ketley was an iron founder (fn. 107) and by 1842 Mark Tipton, farmer and publican at Mosseygreen, was making chains, gates, and bedsteads. (fn. 108) He was described as an ironmaster in 1856, as was William Onions, publican at Redlake. (fn. 109) No small ironmasters were recorded in 1870 (fn. 110) and light engineering seems to have resumed only in the mid 20th century. C. A. Ensor (later Ensor Caravans Ltd.) was building caravans in the 1930s. (fn. 111) By the early 1950s several small firms had set up in Holyhead Road. (fn. 112) Of them, the Holway Tool & Engineering Co. Ltd. remained in 1982. (fn. 113) Others had recently arrived. (fn. 114)
Bricks, tiles, and fireclay.
Tiles were being made in 1755 (fn. 115) and George Atkiss, brick maker at Redlake in 1821, (fn. 116) may have succeeded Nathaniel Atkiss, tile maker, and Thomas Atkiss, brick maker, recorded in the later 18th century. (fn. 117) In 1813 Reynolds & Co. had brickworks at Potters piece and Redlees, and Robert Pool another near Potters piece. (fn. 118) No brickworks were there in 1842 but the duke of Sutherland had clay pits in hand in Holyhead Road (fn. 119) and in the 1850s John Millington was making bricks and tiles (fn. 120) nearby. (fn. 121) By 1870 Millington had closed the works (fn. 122) and opened another in Wellington (fn. 123) but the pits remained in 1894. (fn. 124)
In the mid 18th century the ironworks and mines received fire bricks and clay from Horsehay, (fn. 125) but by 1794 the Reynoldses had a works making white bricks south of Ketley town. (fn. 126) Between 1813 and 1842 it closed; a new brickworks was built at the ironworks site. (fn. 127) It was the Ketley Co.'s only profitable department by 1876 and was acquired c. 1879 by Nettlefolds Ltd., who needed fireclay goods for their Castle Iron Works, Hadley. (fn. 128) After Nettlefolds left Shropshire in 1886 (fn. 129) the brickworks closed. (fn. 130) The Rock collieries produced 150 tons of fireclay a week in the 1950s and 1960s (fn. 131) and fireclay was expected from the opencast coal workings of the 1960s and 1970s. (fn. 132)
Quarries and sandpits.
Sandstone occurred near the surface at Redlake and the Rock and was found elsewhere in the Coal Measures. (fn. 133) The lord of Leegomery manor had a quarry in Ketley wood (fn. 134) c. 1269. (fn. 135) In the 1760s and 1770s hearth stones for Horsehay ironworks came from Ketley. (fn. 136) In 1813 Reynolds & Co. held the quarries at Redlake and Ketley town and William Light those at the Rock (fn. 137) but by 1842 all were in the duke of Sutherland's hands. (fn. 138) The Rock quarries closed before 1882 (fn. 139) but the 4th duke kept the Redlake and Ketley town ones until 1894. (fn. 140) Only the Redlake quarries remained in 1901 and they closed before 1925. (fn. 141)
Industrially useful sands occurred in the northeast, but more especially in the north-west at Ketleysands, which lay mostly in Arleston and partly in Hadley townships. (fn. 142) Until the 1770s only Ketley sand was used at Horsehay ironworks; (fn. 143) later Donnington Wood and Lawley sands were also used. (fn. 144) In the Arleston part of Ketleysands the Ketley Co. and the Botfields were lessees of separate sandpits in the earlier 19th century (fn. 145) and William Edwards (fn. 146) rented another in 1842. (fn. 147) The Botfields extracted 2,657 tons in the half-year to June 1825. (fn. 148) Two large pits remained at Ketleysands in 1912 (fn. 149) but were disused by 1925. (fn. 150) Richard Griffiths owned a pit in the Hadley part of Ketleysands in 1842; (fn. 151) it closed before 1882 (fn. 152) and another nearby lay disused by 1901. (fn. 153) At an adjoining site (fn. 154) C. W. Adey began commercial extraction c. 1935 (fn. 155) but ceased in the 1940s. (fn. 156) Ketley township had no sandpits in the earlier 19th century (fn. 157) but in 1894 the duke of Sutherland had one in hand near Redlake and Edwin Pitchford rented one at Pottersbank. (fn. 158)
Newspaper printing and publishing.
In 1964 the Midland News Association Ltd. replaced the Shropshire edition of its Wolverhampton evening Express & Star with the Shropshire Star, printed and published by a subsidiary company at a new works in Ketley. (fn. 159) The Star's circulation grew from 21,000 in 1964 to 88,000 in 1981. (fn. 160) From 1965 the subsidiary also printed and published the weekly Shropshire Journal, formerly the Wellington Journal. (fn. 161) In 1973 the parent company replaced its Ketley subsidiary with two others: the Shropshire Star Ltd. and Shropshire Weekly Newspapers Ltd. The latter, having acquired the Telford Observer, amalgamated it with the Wrekin editions of the Shropshire Journal as the Telford Journal. (fn. 162) The other editions were soon discontinued in favour of the subsidiary's other local weeklies, whose printing was also transferred to Ketley. (fn. 163) In 1981 the Telford Journal had a circulation of 10,400 and the eight newspapers printed by Shropshire Weekly Newspapers at Ketley a total of 52,000. (fn. 164)